A Systematic Approach For More Interesting Chord Progressions

Updated: Jan 11, 2018

How do you begin writing a song? For many songwriters, the main chord progression is a go-to starting point as it acts as a foundation for the rest of the song to be built around. However, throwing a few triads together often sounds static and boring, so in this post I'll demonstrate how can you spruce up your chord progressions for a more engaging sound.

This technique proved highly effective in a recent pop/R&B composition I produced, so I'll be using that track as a reference throughout the post.

Approach Overview

  • Chords (Triads)

  • Rearranging Notes

  • Embellishment

Quick Note: I'll be avoiding music theory explanations in this post. This is purely about PRACTICE, NOT THEORY.

1. Chords (Triads)

The chorus is arguably the most important part of a song and often a good starting point as you can build the rest of your track around it. So, writing for the chorus, start by coming up with a nice sounding sequence of simple 3-note chords (known as triads). The progression I came up with goes as follows: Am - C - Em - D - Am - C - G - D

2. Rearrange Notes

Next, to make the chords more interesting and harmonically pleasing, we need to rearrange the notes of the triads. Typically, the 3-voice triads become 4-voice chords with the first or last note of the triad doubled. The feel of the music will change depending on how you stack the notes in each chord. Basic music theory can help with your decision making here, but most importantly, use your ears! There's nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error. Here’s how I rearranged my original triads, notice the G chord has become an Em7 with the addition of the E in the bass instead of a doubled note.

3. Embellishment

In music, embellishment or ornamentation is the inclusion of extra notes that are non-essential to the main harmony or melody. There are many different terms and descriptions for these kind of notes, but what's important is that they provide additional interest and expression in the music. As in step 2, trial and error is how I add embellishment that I like. Here are the notes I added to my main progression:


If you're working in MIDI it's a good idea to play your final chord progression into your DAW. The natural timing and velocity data will be recorded making the music more human. If you're not a confident keyboard player, ask a talented friend to help out, or you can always adjust note position and velocity manually.

Finally, within the embellished chord progression there's often a melody line already written, you simply have to piece it together. Here's the melody I pulled from my chord progression:

Useful Links

  • EarMaster.com has a LOT of information on basic music theory. If you're interested in taking your song writing to the next level, you won't regret getting to grips with music theory. - https://goo.gl/cMkrpa

  • DittoMusic.com has a nice collection of song writing tips from some big name song writers - https://goo.gl/da1M3V

  • On Ultimate-Guitar.com, a post titled 'A Systematic Approach to Song Writing' expands a lot on what I've written here - https://goo.gl/UzZd6A

© 2020 William Haxworth - All rights reserved.

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